Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why do drug epidemics happen?

Drugs are widely available. Why do drug epidemics happen?

Michael Agar developed trend theory to answer this question. His excellent book, Dope Double Agent: The Naked Emperor on Drugs, published by Lulu Books in 2006, uses trend theory to explain the 1960s heroin epidemic, the 1980s crack epidemic and the 1990s Ecstasy epidemic.

(The book has much, much more than these three case histories. It is an enormously important, elegantly written book. It is part memoir, part expose, part cri de coeur. Dope Double Agent is a window into the official world of drug abuse policy and research. It is equally a window into drug treatment centers and to bars and shooting galleries of New York City junkies.)

An essential point of trend theory is that the idea that drug use is simply driven by demand is false. Thinking about drugs in primarily along a public health or disease model is wrong. Use does not simply spread from user to user like an infection. Drug epidemics -- periods of rapid growth in use are part of periods of rapid changes -- among user and in the two components of supply -- sources of production and in the retail networks. In thinking about drug epidemics, it is more instructive to think about drugs as products in a market.

I think his analysis makes sense. And applying his analysis to the current situation leaves me frightened. I shared my thoughts with Courtland Milloy, The Washington Post's most perceptive columnist, when it comes to substance abuse issues, and he wrote about it today.

We face the potential for an enormous drug epidemic. The global recession is going to transform economies and governments around the world. In scores of countries, the production of drugs will become attractive as traditional economic markets are blown away by changing demand. Crafts produced for tourists are worth nothing when there are no tourists. Crafts produced for gift shops in the developed world are worthless when those shops have gone out of business. Shippers and exporters unable to make a living with legal goods will apply their expertise to other products that can generate income, such as drugs. Farmers who face falling demand for their produce will consider switching to cannabis, opium or coca. Government officials, dependent upon bribes from legitimate businesses, will lose income as legitimate business shrinks. They, too, will be receptive to the income that the illegal drug trade can provide. We can reasonably anticipate a revolution in the production and global shipment of drugs.

In the United States, the recession is a growing devastation. We all see the headlines and the data. Luckily, in prior recessions, I was insulated. Even in 1976, when I knew young lawyers who were unable to get a job, I never knew anyone who lost a job. In other economic contractions, again, I do not remember that I knew anyone who was laid off. But in this recession, two close friends have been laid off, and a parent of one of my daughter's classmates lost his. This recession is hitting really hard. I don't yet know anyone who has lost their house. But the largest portion of the Washington Post's classified section are ads for home foreclosure sales.

When you are unemployed and when you are at risk of losing the home that your family lives in, your desperation is irresistible. To your conscience, the crime of illegal drug selling is easily justified. And to your wallet, the profit potential is unmistakable. The number of people who will supplement their unemployment compensation by selling drugs so that they do not become homeless is growing by leaps and bounds. To the opportunistic criminal, the challenge to organize eager potential drug sellers in a dramatic expansion of illegal drug sales awaits, if it is not already being met. The tools of texting, cell phones, and Facebook, give the creative dealers enormous opportunities to distribute drugs less ostentatiously than standing on street corners. The facts of our economic contraction are going to create a powerful incentive for persons to sell drugs to keep a roof over their head and food on the table.

The questionable morality of the bailout of the financial system that led us into this crisis erodes at resistance to breaking the drug laws. Selling drugs is just another form of capitalism. The seller is not a pusher; the buyers are eager to find the connection. A dealer can easily avoid selling to youth or obviously pregnant women.

Which is "more evil?" Selling drugs to a peer eager to get high or desperate to get right because they are dopesick in withdrawal. Or evicting a family from their home because the laid-off parents can no longer pay every dime of the mortgage. The ugly consequences of our economic collapse diminish the "ugliness" of selling drugs.

And finally, there is a growing population of despair. The hope of 2008 and the excitement that culminated on January 20 is going to fade. Our embrace of "hope" and "change" and "Yes, We Can!" was a mania. Naomi Klein, writing in The Nation, is already struggling to find the vocabulary that describes the scale of the loss of hope.

For many African-Americans, a White House inhabited by Michelle, Sasha, Malia and Barack Obama is the fulfillment of a dream of a transformed world. Essential to that dream is that each of us, individually, is a tangible beneficiary of that transformation. The reality for most people in America, and for most African-Americans, however, is that in the coming months and years things are going to get worse. Jobs will continue to be lost. Family members will become homeless. Disease will be inadequately treated, if treated at all.

Aside from the private catastrophes, the public sector is going to shrink too. Every state and city and county is cutting back.

In the foreseeable future, almost none of the poor are going to see something tangibly positive from the election of Barack Obama. Disaster is going to trickle down. Tangibly, their recreation centers and libraries will close, their classrooms will get more crowded, their streets will be dirtier, their waits at the hospital longer. Redevelopment will stop. Houses won't get painted. Abandoned homes and buildings will get broken into, and then burned, and then sit. Weeds will grow and lawns will be unmowed. Broken streetlights won't get replaced.

For thousands, indeed millions, whose hopes were on wings in 2007 and 2008 -- some money in the bank, a job, and an African-American family in the White House, -- emotional desolation is in store. For millions of Americans, their distress will be profound, and drugs will be used widely to bring their relief.

In recent months, the violence in Mexico has been a continuing page one story. Mexico has been visited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, and President Barack Obama. The committees Congress have held a dozen hearings about the violence in Mexico and its implications. Former "drug Czar," Gen. Barry McCaffrey, has been peddling a paper warning that Mexico is in danger of becoming a "failed state."

What will happen in Mexico? The violence is going to have political consequences. Quite likely, in the next presidential election, in 2012, the exhaustion with the violence will lead to a rejection of President Calderon's PAN party, and the return to power of the PRI, the party that held power for 70 years. PRI is the party of institutional corruption, and likely to accommodate the drug trafficking gangs. The drug trafficking organizations are likely to form a genuine cartel -- an alliance of erstwhile competitors to fix prices and limit competition.

(The labeling of drug trafficking organizations as cartels was a journalistic/political creation for its alliterative power when paired with cocaine --hence the "Colombian cocaine cartels" of the 1980s. I vividly remember economist Peter Reuter speaking to the Senate International Drug Control Caucus in the early 1980s, and Senator Alphonse "Pothole" D'Amato (R-NY) scratching his head in befuddlement when Peter explained that the cocaine "cartels" were weak -- because they were ineffective in accomplishing the prime goal of a cartel which is keeping prices high and excluding competition.)

Creating a real drug cartel fulfills Mexico's opportunity to become a more peaceful staging ground to supply cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana to the United States, which will help rebuild the Mexican economy that is reeling from recession too.

Analyzing the three elements of Agar's trend theory all point toward the danger of a drug epidemic in the next few years.

Are we ready? Don't make me laugh.
In 2001, a Committee on Data and Research for Policy on Illegal Drugs of the National Research Council issued a report, Informing America's Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don't Know Keeps Hurting Us.

"A wide spectrum of plausible approaches to the prevention of substance use exist in both theory and practice. The effectiveness of most of these approaches for reducing substance use is unknown because the research evidence is nonexistent or inconclusive. Some of the approaches for which we have no evidence of effectiveness include many popular control strategies, such as zero-tolerance policies, the use of security measures such as locker searches, and the presence of police in schools, as well as more innovative approaches that draw on advances in toxicology, molecular biology, genetics, and clinical medicine (e.g., parents' attempts to protect their children via increased use of home test kits to detect drug use, or active immunization of high-risk children with vaccine analogues)."

I often feel our prevention establishment resembles amber, encoded with the dinosaur DNA of prohibition exaggeration. I need to work more on this challenge.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A useful text -- "Criminal Mental Health and Disability Law, Evidence and Testimony"

When we think about crime and criminals, we all have different thought balloons, usually based on our fears or our experiences. If I ran a retail store, I think I would be focused on shop lifting, and maybe employee pilferage or embezzlement. I rarely think about bank robbery because my deposits are insured.

I frequently have short worries -- that I check -- about kidnapping when my 5th grade daughter is out walking our dog by herself. I fear robbery at night walking to or from Metro rail stations in Washington, DC or certain suburbs.

If I were a cop, I think I would fear violence whenever I responded to a domestic violence call, or violence whenever I stopped someone for speeding, running a red light or some other reason.

Many of us imagine that thieves steal because they need the money, or they justify their stealing in some way. Bernie Madoff did not need the money. Was he mentally ill? Was his greed a form of mental illness?

A person who kidnaps a child for ransom is obviously depraved in some sense. Who would be so thoughtless that they would terrorize a child and his or her family? Are they mentally ill in some way? Sure -- but in what way?

A person who kidnaps a child for other purposes or sexually assaults another is certainly "crazy" in some sense. But does this vitiate their liability for the crime? Not in most cases. How do we distinguish the crazy from the insane who are not criminally responsible?

Were the teenage killers at Columbine High School crazy? Sure. But were they insane? When John Hinckley tried to kill President Reagan to gain the love of actress Jodie Foster, the jury concluded that he was mentally ill to the point that he could not be found guilty. That verdict resulted in many changes in the "insanity defense" and how the law addresses mental illness.

In fact, many people who the police deal with are mentally ill in one or more of a variety of ways. How the police, courts and correctional system should deal with this variety of mentally ill persons, as provided by the law, is the subject of the new book from the American Bar Association, Criminal Mental Health and Disability Law, Evidence and Testimony: A Comprehensive Reference Manual for Lawyers, Judges, and Criminal Justice Professionals, by John Parry, J.D.

Parry has done an outstanding job bringing together and organizing the vast volume of material in this subject. Every subject in this intellectually rich field of law is covered in a clear style.

Think about the challenges of the following complex questions and issues and you can appreciate the accomplishment of the author in assembling and explaining this material.

Is a person competent to stand trial? What is the law? What is the evidence and who presents it? If a person is incompetent, how are they committed? If they regain their competence, then what happens?

What about the case in which the person is competent to stand trial, but argues he was legally insane at the time of the offense?

How do we address the question of "dangerousness?"

What are the standards for managing institutions that house the criminally mentally ill? What are the Constitutional standards, the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and common law civil liability?

Of all the persons who encounter and observe the defendant, what are the standards regarding how they can testify, and what privileges barring their testimony apply?

What are the different kinds of diagnoses and assessments of mental illness that are presented to courts?

If you are curious about these matters, after you get frustrated with Google and Wikipedia, this is the place to turn.

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New Rule on Warrantless Searches of Vehicles after an arrest

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 28-year old rule that broadly permitted warrantless searches of vehicles when the occupant was arrested. The rationale for the rule was that the vehicle occupant could grab a weapon and endanger the arresting officer. But the court realized that the rationale did not justify the search without a warrant when the suspect was handcuffed and secured in the back of a patrol car.

This important decision narrows the circumstances of warrantless searches of vehicles. Not only is this case remarkable as one that extends the protections of the Fourth Amendment, but the five justice majority spans the spectrum: Stevens wrote the opinion and was joined by Scalia, Thomas, Souter and Ginsburg.

The dissent by Alito does not defend the rationale for the warrantless search. He takes different tack -- the doctrine of stare decisis. Since the rule is old, it should only be changed based on strong arguments, and he provides a number of administrative objections -- but no real analysis of the meaning of the Constitution and the provision that warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable unless justified by an exception. Alito is joined by CJ Roberts, Kennedy and Breyer.

This opinion does not protect persons against searches of their vehicles in which evidence is in plain view, such as a drug paraphernalia, a "roach" in the car ashtray, or the smell of marijuana smoke in the vehicle. Nor does it protect against searches for which a warrant is obtained based upon probable cause.

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Neuroenhancers -- they are coming to a student near you

The New Yorker reports on the new neuroenhancers.
In the 1970s, students used amphetamines of various kinds to stay awake to write papers and study for exams. In the 1990s and 2000s, students have been using Ritalin and Adderall as a stimulant to . . . help write papers and study for exams.

What new chemicals are in the pipeline? Modafinil. Provigil. Nuvigil. Some call this "cosmetic neurology." This important article reports on these drugs and their growing use.

This article tells us about a professional poker player, businessman, think tank analyst, and others using some of these new compounds. The author concludes with some terrific questions and observations about the connection society has with its drugs. What was the significance of marijuana, LSD, peyote and mushrooms for the 1960s and 1970s as shapers and definers of the culture and its subcultures? What was the significance of cocaine in the early 1980s? Or the spread of Starbucks and caffeine in the 90s and 2000s?

Cosmetic neurology seems to be about enhancing productivity in a culture that already rarely stops working.

How much benefit do these drugs confer? Of all the various kinds of mental functions and gifts there are, which are enhanced and how? Who might benefit the most? One researcher at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted some studies that suggest that those who benefit the most from these drugs may be those who are the least gifted mentally to start with. Hmmm.

If we are genuinely the knowledge-based economy we claim we are, shouldn't national policy encourage experimentation with these compounds to find those that are most effective, and encourage the use of those?

For several years, I've suggested to the Drug Policy Alliance that this subject be on the agenda of the International Drug Policy Conference. Perhaps this November.

NIDA warns -- these drugs can stimulate dopamine release, and that means -- dum te dum dum -- they might be addictive.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Is another drug epidemic brewing?

Are we in the midst of a drug epidemic but don't know it?
Has the epidemic been here, but we haven't connected the symptomatic dots?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is holding a conference July 7-8, 2009, "Caffeine: Is the next problem already brewing?"

Here's the program.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

CU Boulder's silly administration tries to suppress 4-20 events

What glorious weather!
It is 70 degrees, clear and sunny this afternoon in Silver Spring, MD!
What a TGIF!
Imagine what it is like on the quads and fields of your alma mater? Frisbees thrown, softballs, footballs, music, drumming, hanging out, stereos blaring....

According to Robin Williams, "Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's party!'"

On Monday afternoon, cannabis activists will be celebrating 4-20.
This has been a sore point at alcohol-soaked University of Colorado at Boulder. For years the university administration has tried to repress 4-20. One year they turned the water sprinklers on their students. They attempt to intimidate the students with a massive show of police. They have taken photographs of students with pipes and joints and posted them on the Internet.

Here is the April 15 announcement from the university administration on this year's 4-20 event:

"On April 20, 2009, we hope that you will choose not to participate in unlawful activity that debases the reputation of [their] University and degree, and will encourage [their] fellow Buffs to act with pride and remember who they really are -- part of a dynamic environment of teaching, research, learning, and service, nationally recognized for its unique and stellar academic programs, outstanding faculty, and proud students and alumni."

But this is a university that embraces drunken excess with a veneer of concern that would be hysterical were the consequences not so often tragic.

The folks at SAFER are focusing their keen eye on University Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Philip P. DiStefano

I have a long connection with the University of Colorado at Boulder as I note in my letter to Chancellor DiStefano, below:

Dear Chancellor DiStefano,
For nine years during the 1990s, I was a participant at CU Boulder's distinguished Conference on World Affairs, and developed a deep affection for CU Boulder, and an admiration for the students, faculty and administration.

One spring, while I was lecturing at a sociology class about substance abuse policy, a student from abroad said her classmates were "obsessed" with getting drunk. I was shocked at that word choice. I asked the class for a show of hands: "How many of you would agree that your classmates are obsessed with getting drunk?" Almost every student raised his or her hand.

On another occasion I went to a party at a student house on the Hill after the Thursday conference dinner. Students brought in cases of liquor, wine and beer sufficient for a month of parties in most circles. Several students held magnums of wine as "their drink" the way I held a bottle of beer! CU has had a serious alcohol problem for many years. I did not see evidence of any comparable problem with marijuana or other illegal drugs.

Your effort to stop the 4-20 events is ridiculous. The suggestion that this event will tarnish the CU reputation is preposterously naive. It would appear that you have no sense of the breadth of juvenile antics on American university campuses. One would think you never attended a football game at CU, but that is inconceivable. Apparently you have never heard of the "Hash Bash" at the University of Michigan or "Hash Wednesday" at the University of Illinois. No one with any sense judges those universities -- their students, their faculty or their administrations -- on the basis of such antics.

Marijuana policy is an important political question in the United States. Rallies and festivals by students that celebrate the use of marijuana may be inarticulate, naive, and politically counterproductive, but they are legitimate political speech. It is beyond foolish to try to suppress such events; for state officials, it violates the spirit if not the letter of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and violates the spirit of a great university.

Your appropriate role would be to ask university health educators to set up a couple of tables to provide information about how to get counseling for alcohol and other substance abuse. Distribute the phone number for a hotline for confidential help, assuming CU Boulder has such a basic public health intervention.

Sincerely yours,
Eric E. Sterling, J.D.
The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
8730 Georgia Avenue, Suite 400
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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Some in Mexico's Congress consider legalization of marijuana as Obama arrives

The New York Daily News reported the AP story that the Mexican Congress is studying the legalization of marijuana. This is an exaggeration; the Mexican Congress does not have an actual proposal that they are debating.

This three-day inquiry is sponsored by the Social Democrat Party (PSD). It is analogous to a congressional caucus "hearing" in the U.S. which is not the official business of the Congress, but is organized by Members of Congress and may be held in a congressional building.

Phil Smith, writing in Drug War Chronicle -- as usual -- provides a more thorough description of the proceedings than any other writer in English does.

The Drug Policy Alliance is asking people to email President Obama, who has just left Mexico, that ending marijuana prohibition is no joke.

This is the letter that I sent:
Dear Mr. President:
On March 26, 2009, at your town hall forum, you dismissed the prominent question about ending the prohibition of marijuana with a joke. I did not vote in the Internet poll regarding the questions, but I was offended at your mocking of those who did. I gave your candidacy over $xxx, and racked up another $xxx in personal cell phone overcharges calling voters in Virginia.

From the perspective of Mexico, I am sure you'll agree there's nothing funny about the price they and we are paying for marijuana prohibition.

Eighty years ago was the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago. A few uncorrupt Treasury agents were finally found, and they successfully prosecuted Al Capone. But his incarceration in 1931 did not stop the alcohol, the violence or the corruption. That ended when we ended alcohol prohibition in 1933. The drug war makes drug traffickers rich while destroying hundreds of thousands of lives -- cops and mayors killed in Mexico; cops killed in the U.S.; poisonings and overdose deaths, and HIV infections; and hundreds of thousands of prisoners.

Please stop ignoring this issue -- it's time for an open and honest debate about ending marijuana prohibition. America will end marijuana prohibition. Are you going to join those political cowards who are afraid of history and logic?
Eric E. Sterling

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

NPR reports on American Violet

NPR reports on the screening of American Violet in Hearn, TX.
A local parish priest rented the church hall for the screening. He distributed signs to local businesses to display in their windows advertising the screening. The local district attorney sent an officer in SWAT garb to every business to discourage them from displaying the sign.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Does the government have a duty to tell the truth?

Does the government have a duty to tell the truth? Do government reports need to be accurate?

It is hard to say. Members of Congress and Senators have an explicit right to tell lies. Article I, section 6 of the Constitution provides that, "The Senators and Representatives. . .for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place." This "speech or debate clause" has been interpreted to insulate Senators and Representatives from suits for falsehoods they may utter in the course of their legislative duties.

Congress passed the Information Quality Act in 2000 (also called the Data Quality Act) to permit persons to petition government agencies to correct misinformation that they disseminate; that is to make government agencies tell the truth. Interpreted the one way, it could be a kind of Wikipedia of government information.

The Courts are now considering whether persons who filed such petitions -- which are then ignored by the agency -- can go to court to get an answer and get the information corrected.

The question is raised by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) which in October 2004 asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to correct their claims that marijuana has no medical value. HHS never substantively replied. In 2007, ASA sued HHS.

This question was argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday, Apr. 14, 2009 in San Francisco. The attorney for ASA, Alan Morrison, is one of Washington's most respected appellate advocates. (San Francisco Chronicle report). You can read the brief that was filed here. You can hear the legal argument here.

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Maryland waters down Good Samaritan bill

A Maryland bill to create a "Good Samaritan" bar to prosecution for seeking medical assistance for someone who is experiencing a medical emergency after ingesting alcohol or drugs has been watered down on the way to enactment by the General Assembly to simply provide the such a fact "may be used as a mitigating factor in a criminal prosecution."

Characteristic of last minute legislative this looks like an amendment written on the back of a cocktail napkin. Did the legislature mean a mitigating factor for purposes of charging that should be considered by a State's Attorney or a mitigating factor for the purpose of sentencing to be considered by a judge?

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New resource on Colombia data

The Center on International Policy has posted some excellent data on Colombia.

Despite extensive U.S. spending on Plan Colombia, coca cultivation has been growing for the past 5 years, and remains stable over the past decade.

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Surprise: Cocaine prices falling

John Walsh at the Washington Office on Latin America has issued another thoughtful report on cocaine prices. His 10-page paper has some excellent graphs of cocaine prices.

Contrary to the repeated claims in November 2005 and November 2007 by John Walters that cocaine prices were going up in an "unprecedented disruption" in the cocaine market, the opposite was true. ONDCP obtained a report from the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) on July 23, 2008. It was just released in February 2009, but is buried on their website in the middle of 2008 publications.

Contrary to Walters' claims, the average U.S. retail price of cocaine per pure gram was the lowest in history and 22 percent lower than in 1999 at the start of Plan Colombia. The average retail purity of 64 percent was close to the median of 67 percent since 1988.

The price drop is not due to demand. Demand has been relatively stable since 2000.

Walsh's conclusion is that, as the historical pattern reveals, there are disruptions in the supply of cocaine, but they have always been temporary. But these infrequent disruptions are the best we have achieved despite an enormously expensive investment into interdiction, source country control, crop suppression. Walsh notes that "the scope of the failure of supply-side measures must be acknowledged" by policy makers.

But Walsh notes that DEA continues to report price increases that are contradicted by the IDA analysis.

Effective policy making is impossible when the critical data is erroneous, falsified, or concealed. Is the crisis of cartel violence in Mexico, which has been the subject of one dozen congressional hearings since January, another instance of the data problem? Claims of the extent cartel killings since the inauguration of President Calderon now top 10,000. Warnings of spillover violence into Arizona, Texas, California and elsewhere in the U.S. accompany every report. How accurate are these claims?

We need to continue to demand that data be carefully developed, and accurate. If Walters' claims about cocaine were made under oath at a congressional hearing, perhaps Congress should consider whether Walters' claims amounted to perjury, and should be referred to the U.S. Attorney.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

American Violet opens next week!

As I noted last month, American Violet opens next week! This is a dramatic rendering of the Hearn, TX drug cases, focusing on the compelling character of Dee Roberts, a single mother of four who fights back and pleads not guilty. The movie is produced by Tim Disney, grandnephew of Walt Disney.

The Hearn cases -- 27 arrests! -- are part of the pattern that became well known after the numerous arrests, prosecutions, and incomprehensibly long sentences imposed in Tulia, TX. American Violet tells this story powerfully. Find it, see it, and share your reaction with friends and colleagues.

Variety said this about the star, Nicole Beharie:

Dee is an engaging, admirable lead character, and the striking, petite Beharie, in only her second screen role, is a real winner, bringing energy and fortitude to a woman who easily could have joined the ranks of society's victims and losers. Bright things lie ahead for this charismatic thesp.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Someone -- The New York Times? -- confuses possession with importation, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute

The New York Times reported on Friday (for Saturday publication)on an interview with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, before his meeting with his counterpart in Mexico.

In the interview, Mr. Holder said he was sending an additional 100 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to the southern border to crack down on the so-called straw gun purchases — in which one person submits to the federal background checks to obtain guns for someone else — that fuel much of the southbound smuggling. And with marijuana sales central to the drug trade, Mr. Holder said he was exploring ways to lower the minimum amount required for the federal prosecution of possession cases.

Probably The New York Times reporter substituted possession for importation or distribution, or perhaps possession with intent to distribute, when she wrote the story. If Holder said possession, he almost certainly meant possession with intent to distribute, importation or distribution. Federal prosecutors offices along the border have had informal quantity floors for taking drug cases to trial in federal court. If someone is simply crossing the border at Tijuana or El Paso, and is in possession of personal use amounts of marijuana, they are almost never prosecuted for felony importation or for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. The prosecutors have so many cases of commercial couriers they have to disregard minor cases for federal court prosecution. The Attorney General isn't getting more resources so that he can direct Assistant U.S. Attorneys on lower-level cases.

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